Music Writing Samples



THE ORDINATION OF FATHER JOHN MISTY


“I’m just sitting here in my underwear,” Father John Misty said as he picked up the phone.

It was no surprise that the singer-songwriter, 32, conducted his interview nearly nude — raunch is what Misty’s all about. But it wasn’t always that way. Born Joshua Tillman to devout Christian parents, he initially had holier aspirations.

“When I was very young I didn’t have any discernible skills,” he explained ahead of a sold-out show Tuesday at First Ave. “In school, I was always putting on a show, I was very talkative, and I knew how to bullshit. I thought those qualities would make me a good pastor.”

That “dream” fell by the wayside when Misty learned to play drums and guitar at 12. Over the next two decades, his career path would lead him to record seven albums as brooding J. Tillman, a process he described as “a dark and cathartic exercise.” He also drummed for indie-folk stars Fleet Foxes for four years, a role he tends to downplay.

Last year, J. Tillman officially transformed into Father John Misty and released his debut album, “Fear Fun,” under that moniker. A smorgasbord of psychedelic sounds, from fuzzed-out indie rock to Laurel Canyon country, the kaleidoscopic collection also includes an example of art imitating life on “Writing a Novel.” Misty did indeed write a novel, one packaged with the album on two broadsheets.

“Part of what writing a novel solidified for me is that I only want to write songs and it informed the way I have to write them,” he said. “[In the novel] I gave myself permission to be funny, to be long-winded, to be absurd, to be verbose. I had never allowed myself to use those parts of me in songwriting before.”

When asked how he reconciles the saintly and the sinful sides of himself (a contradiction clearly played out on his NSFW Tumblr, where pictures of priests and bestiality coexist), Misty’s answer got lost behind a maze of verbiage.

“It’s about iconography and symbol-making … a Jungian thing,” he said, adding “It’s also a way for me to be mischievous.”

The self-proclaimed “old pervert” Father John Misty guise may be the most authentic one the musician has ever worn. Critics wonder, however, if the provocative persona reeks of a clichéd storyline: Boy rebels against religious upbringing by becoming a lewd celebrity. When asked what his parents think, Misty’s voice flatlined.

“In total honesty, I don’t know,” he said. “We don’t discuss my career.”

While Misty was tight-lipped on family affairs, he was happy to discuss his use of mushrooms:

“I have been portrayed as a partyer, but that’s not the whole story. It’s not like I take a bunch of mushrooms and write. My personal experience is that in that state, I have a very distinct realization of myself.”

The softer side of Misty seemed to emerge when discussing his titillating song “Nancy From Now On.” The music video depicts a night of pseudo pornographic sex- and booze-fueled flirtation. In the final scene, however, Misty returns home to cuddle in bed with his real-life fiancée Emma Elizabeth Garr, a filmmaker and photographer.

“Part of the video was an excuse to throw on S&M gear and play around,” Misty said. “It’s also an exploration of being newly in love with someone and the vulnerability you feel when that happens. When you’re alone, you’re not at the mercy of wanting to love and be loved, or wanting approval, or maintaining your dignity.”

Ironically, Misty seems to maintain more dignity under his current alter ego than he ever did as the demure and depressed J. Tillman.


“After I wrote this really weird thing,” Misty said, referring to his novel, “I couldn’t go back. It was a moment of personal revelation.”


Q&A: THE BUZZCOCKS


The Buzzcocks are legendary for their role in launching the British punk movement. Formed in 1976, the Manchester foursome’s ageless sound is marked by heavy riffs and classic melodies. Initially independent, the Buzzcocks signed to United Artists in 1977, then promptly incited controversy with the release of their single “Orgasm Addict.” Deemed too explicit for BBC radio, the “godfathers of pop-punk” didn’t let censorship stop them. They’ve since released nine studio albums, inspired bands like REM, Nirvana, and Green Day, and continue to tour the world.

Longtime guitarist and vocalist Steve Diggle spoke to Vita.mn from his room at the Hotel Rouge in Washington D.C.

Q: Your new album “The Way” has been called the Buzzcocks’ “White Album.” How do you feel about that comparison?

A: It kind of makes sense in some ways. It’s a similar theme. Catchy songs but not necessarily “That’s the hit. That’s the album track.” It has that sense of flavor.

Q: How do you think has the punk movement changed since the Buzzcocks started in the ‘70s?

A: Essentially punk was about attitude, so anyone who got into punk rock had the attitude before getting into the songs. When we started, there was The Clash, the Sex Pistols—there were about five bands in England—and in the States there were Talking Heads and Blondie and things. There weren’t that many punk rock bands around in ’76. [Punk is] like the Bible, it’s been interpreted many different ways since when we started.

Q: Isn’t punk also about rebellion? What do you think young people rebel against today?

A: Lots of things, even if they’re rebelling against themselves for not rebelling! That’s part of the job of being young, to question things like that.

It’s difficult in music now because of the financial thing. It’s like anybody coming from the underground don’t get a break like the commercial kind of stuff. The music business is run by accountants now, not artistic people. That’s what ruined it. It’s finance over art. You’re not getting as many wacky or inventive things. You’re getting more conveyor belt stuff that’s going to sell. That’s the whole system of it. That’s the thing to rebel against.

Q: Is there anything you haven’t done yet that you would still like to do, musically?

A: Yes, I feel like I only just started. Always along the way, you’re discovering yourself each day, like we all are, whatever we do. If I knew what there was left to be discovered, there would be no future. I could live my life in 10 minutes. There’s still a lot of spirit inside me that thinks there are things coming around the corner, artistically. It don’t have to be a million miles different, you know?

It’s like having sex. When you’re having sex with someone the first time, it’s great. Then it gets into one phase and another. Then you’ve got to look into taking it to different levels on a daily basis. That’s the kind of thing married people will tell you. [Laughs]

There’s many albums I want to do. I don’t think I’ll live long enough to do so many albums I’d like to do.

Q: Do you have any regrets about your career?

A: No, it’s all been fantastic, really. There probably are bits and pieces you think you’d like to do again, but they’re not really regrets. You can’t go to the grave thinking, “I really should have done this and that.” I’ve been fortunate to be one of those people who figured that out early on and thought, “Jump in and go for it because you might never get a chance to do whatever again.” That goes from songwriting to partying to getting in all kinds of streaks and situations and wild things.

Q: Speaking of wild things, what is touring like now that you’re older?

A: It’s a little bit tamer on the partying front only because the recovery time is harder. After the shows, we used to do a lot of partying. It’s kind of part of it: meeting people and having a few drinks and having crazy bits of fun on the road. But that’s a little bit less now because I kinda like to wake up and make breakfast in the hotel rather than sleep in and miss it all. It’s still great to do the actual shows. We’ve been doing it that long that we are attuned to this way of life, that almighty life of wandering the planet.

There are bands that can’t handle being on the road after a while, dealing with the psychology of living with yourself on the road. There’s a lot of time in hotel rooms when you have to come to terms with yourself. A lot of folks can’t do that. All kinds of things can come into their minds that disrupt them. They have to have escapism. It’s a big problem. That’s why bands split up.

Q: To what do you attribute the Buzzcocks’ longevity?

A: It’s still the songs. They sound like they was made last week. They’re timeless. You always feel current and in the now rather than just playing as if you’re reviving the past.

We stuck to our guns, too. We didn’t play the game of commercialism. We made the songs we wanted to make, songs of realism and the human condition, which people relate to. We ain’t bullshittin’ them. And we ain’t writing songs that we were hoping were going to be hits.

And the pleasure of playing. The band’s just gotten better over the years. The interaction between us, the spirituality of the band, it’s like, “We’re generating electricity up here!” When the crowd comes alive and we come alive, the magic happens in the middle. That’s the whole reason for doing it.


Q&A: DIEGO GARCIA


When indie rock band Elefant broke up in 2010, frontman Diego Garcia didn’t just go his own way—he did a 180. The Argentine-American who was once declared by New York Magazine as the “Sexiest Lead Singer” released his first solo album, “Laura”, in 2011. The critically acclaimed—and deeply confessional—recording mourned the loss of a relationship that Garcia had with a classmate from Brown University. The couple later reunited, married and now have two children. 
The sonic landscape on Garcia’s recently released sophomore effort reflects this fairytale turn of events. “Paradise” is an indulgent mix of romantic lyricism and tropical rhythm with audible influences from Latin crooners like Julio Iglesias and legendary songwriters like Leonard Cohen.

Garcia was born in Detroit, raised in Florida, and began writing songs at the age of 14. Now 34, the bilingual Garcia spoke to Vita.mn in anticipation of his show at the 7th Street Entry on Dec. 7.

Q: I’ve always wanted to ask a musician if songs could win a woman back. It sounds like that might be the case with your album “Laura”?

Diego Garcia: Oh, man, that’s the Hollywood ending. I think that’s a lot more than just songs, but if you want to think it’s the songs, go ahead! I spent five years writing that album, so I think it was time that I grew up a little bit. It prepared me to be in a relationship and then it just happened that she became available. She liked the songs, so that helped. I remember saying, “I’m not going to let her go this time” and I put a lot of work into it.

Q: So now you’ve released “Paradise”. What is paradise to you? 

DG: Paradise for me is these eleven songs. What I like to think is that my music can create an escape for you, an escape from the day-to-day, from the things that knock you down, or an escape for you to celebrate something. That was my goal in making this album.

Q: There’s seems to be a myth in the music world that pain is more inspirational than happiness. Has that been true for you or does your emotional state not dictate what you write?

DG: Art doesn’t care if you’re happy or sad. It could care less about how you feel about things. Personal comfort has nothing to do with the music. You have no control over that. I believe that if you’re really a good artist or a good writer, a good song is going to happen, regardless of your state of mind. I could be having a good day and write a miserable song. I could be down in the dumps and I could write “Sunnier Days”. It really has no impact. But I can tell you that there’s no pain involved in writing. There’s no pain involved in performing. I get asked if singing these songs I wrote years ago makes me sad and no, not at all. It’s a physical thing, full of life.

Q: Talk about the transition from being in Elefant to embarking on your solo career. What was that like for you artistically?

DG: The constant is still the same: I write all the songs on the guitar. The big difference is that in a band, you just press “record” and that’s what you get. Your sound is sort of defined before you get in the studio by the personalities playing the instruments. And when it works, it’s beautiful. When I went solo, I spent five years experimenting with different styles and sounds until I felt comfortable that I’d captured something that was a true and honest extension of who I am. As a solo artist, you can get lost in a studio because there’s a million different ways to dress up the songs. 

Q: Do you have any advice for men who want to be more romantic? 

DG:  [Laughs] Yeah: tequila, porno—I don’t know. What does that mean? If you want to make a relationship work, you need to make the woman your priority. And then… [Laughs] A lot of cunnilingus! I laugh because you can be romantic and still be dirty. What do you want to hear? “Flowers and love letters”? No! I think you just gotta make her feel like she’s the most important thing in the world at all times. And, obviously, try to eat well, don’t get too fat, work out, I don’t know, shave?

Q: Those are all good things.

DG: I’m not Dr. Phil. Every day it’s hard. It’s a job. Make sure you’re in love with the person before you…get in there. That’s important, too. Hey—my wife Laura is driving in the same car. It’s been really awesome talking to you about this with her next to me. Do you want to say “hi”, ask her a question? 

Q: Absolutely!

L: I can’t listen to my husband tell you about how to be romantic. He’s very romantic. He’s playing it down.

DG: How am I romantic?

L: He writes songs for me. 

Q: Has he ever written a song for you that you didn’t like?

L: No.

DG: Aww!

Q: How do you feel, Laura, about being the subject of your husband’s art?

DG: My muse!

L: I’m flattered. I hope that it’s a good thing and that it doesn’t mean I drive him crazy sometimes. 

For more of Erica Rivera's music writing, please see the Publications page.